Maryland defensive lineman Justin Anderson began the spring with a move from end to tackle.
After six practices, the junior found himself back at end - and amid a two-week microcosm of his career with the Terrapins.
Anderson played tackle as a freshman and moved outside to former defensive coordinator Don Brown’s anchor position, which functioned as a strong-side end. When the fall arrives, he might play both as needed.
“I really can’t blame them,” Anderson said last week. “They’re just trying to get a look at what everybody can do.”
Anderson, it turns out, can do quite a bit.
He started all 13 games last season as Maryland went 9-4. Randy Edsall was hired in January to replace the fired Ralph Friedgen and brought in his own staff. Brown, though, was initially retained, and told Anderson he might move back to tackle in his third season.
Brown departed for Connecticut in early February, and Anderson’s shift inside soon was finalized. It was a logical move for a new staff to make, considering Anderson possesses obvious size (6-foot-5) for an interior lineman.
“I think that had something to do with it. He probably looked at the size and frame and everything [and figured] I’d be able to handle myself inside,” Anderson said of new defensive line coach Greg Gattuso. “When he came in, he was like ‘Yeah, tackle would be best-suited for you.’ “
Yet there are reasons to move him back to end, too. Maryland has two incumbent starting tackles (A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano), and keeping Anderson inside creates a glut at the position. Edsall said Anderson’s strength, height and length work in his favor on the outside, as does his ability to play with physicality against a tight end.
So Anderson is again where he was a season ago.
“We have guys at tackle and a lot of numbers there, and we thought some guys there have come along a little bit,” Edsall said. “We looked at where we were at the end position and just felt we needed a little more there.”
It doesn’t bother Anderson much. He credits his playing style for allowing relative easy shifts between positions, and the upshot of versatility - the possibility of more playing time - is welcome.
It could also be a boon for the Terps, who made it through last season without suffering a major injury to a defensive starter. Anderson’s knowledge of three positions provides a fallback plan in case a lineman is lost for an extended period.
“He’s been doing it since he got here,” Francis said. “He plays wherever we need him. … That’s going to come in handy. You never know when guys are going to get injured. You never know what’s going to happen with people in the offseason. You never know what’s going to happen. Having a guy who can play both is huge.”
Anderson believes the previous year, from playing with the starting unit in the spring to making 22 tackles (5.5 for loss) and two sacks in the fall, accelerated his on-field maturation.